The History of the J.W. Jung Seed Company
John William "J.W." Jung only set out to make enough money to raise a family when he started selling seeds from his parent's farmhouse, but his determination, common sense, thirst for knowledge and love for growing seeds and plants ultimately resulted in a company that supports hundreds of families.
After completing a two-year business program at the Oshkosh Business College in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, JW wanted to learn more about the seed business. His interest in seeds started in his mother's garden and was further piqued when the Salzer Seed Co. of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, would stop in town to sell seeds out of a railroad car. In 1905 he landed a job with the H. W. Buckbee Seed Co. in Rockford, Illinois, where his 10 hour days, six days a week job earned him $25 per month - and a wealth of experience. He was often quoted as saying he learned more in his short stint at Buckbee's than he did in his two years at college, and that much of what he learned was how NOT to run a company. He opened orders, filled orders and then moved into the print shop where he helped print labels. That exposure to printing would prove invaluable in the coming years.
After a year at Buckbee's, JW returned to Randolph. He set up shop in an upstairs bedroom which his mother allowed him to use and his father allotted him some land on which he could grow seeds. In 1907 he printed 400 black and white 5"x7" catalogs using a small hand press. Although profits were small, 1909 there was enough money to purchase a Chandler and Price cylinder press, resulting in 10,000 catalogs being printed. He often remarked that the delivery of that press was one of the biggest thrills of his life. To market his company, JW began writing articles for farm magazines in exchange for advertising space.
In 1910 a new two-story building was erected on the Jung family farm to house the seed company which by now had about 500 customers. As the business grew, it became apparent that the rural location of the business made transportation challenges a problem, especially in winter and early spring. He decided to move the business to downtown Randolph in 1913 to be near the post office and railroad.
In 1918, JW married Wilhelmina (Minnie) Blockwitz. In addition to raising 3 children, she was very active in the business, serving as the company bookkeeper. Her meticulous hand-written records are treasure items in the Jung archives. She also reviewed the sales books to determine which ads were working and whether items were popular enough to continue selling. Daughter Betty said that, "If it wasn't for both of them, they could never have hung on during the Depression. JW took no paycheck during the Depression and relied on the financial support of others. He never forgot those supporters. And he vowed he would never be in debt again."
In 1919, JW purchased the Alton Hall, an opera house in downtown Randolph, to accommodate the growing business. Nursery stock was added to the offerings in the catalog. By 1935, the catalog mailing was up to 280,000.
JW and Minnie's oldest son, Wilfred, and son-in-law Tuenis (Betty's husband) joined the business in 1942, with John Carl, their second son, coming on board in 1950.
In 1951, a couple knock-down blows followed in succession - first, the death of his beloved Minnie in April, and second, the seed company building was struck by lightning on May 31 resulting in the loss of most of the contents including the original hand press and JW's vast collection of seed catalogs. Only the business records were saved.
Following the fire, it was decided to rebuild on the outskirts of Randolph where there was ample space to expand. Additional land was purchased and construction of the new company headquarters was completed in early 1952.
It is often said that JW was as much a printer as he was a seedsman. After all, the printed catalog was the vehicle that drove the seed sales. If JW had soil under his fingernails, he had printer's ink on his fingertips. He loved designing the catalog, writing the descriptions and operating the presses. Jung's was the last major seed company to print its catalog in-house, doing so until 1987, the year JW reached 100 years of age. JW passed away in 1988, 2 months shy of his 101st birthday.
Family members and a loyal staff of employees played an integral part in the success of the company through the years. Brother Louie helped get the business off the ground, another brother, Herman (known as Kerb) also worked in the business. His brother Fred helped him through the depression with financial loans.
Son Wilfred (Wil) served as company bookkeeper and was key in the printing operation where he deftly transformed company nurserymen into pressmen for three to four months of the year. His fascination with gadgets brought Jung's into the computer era in the early 1970's when a keypunch system was installed for customer records.
John Carl inherited JW's keen interest in seeds and studied agronomy and horticulture at UW-Madison while working on his seed industry major. He introduced hybrid seeds into the Jung catalogs as well as other new seed and nursery crops. When the company could no longer meet the demands of growing all its crop needs, he sought out the best growers and locations for contracting the company's needs. He managed Jung Farms, Inc., a subsidiary of J. W. Jung Seed Co. established in 1961 to market farm seeds such as corn, oats and alfalfa.
Son-in-law Tuenis (Tueny) Zondag was instrumental in establishing the Jung Garden Centers. The first garden center was set up in a room in the new company headquarters in 1955. It rapidly outgrew its space and a larger store was built in 1972. A second store was opened in Stevens Point, Wisconsin in 1989. Three more were added in the Madison, Wisconsin area in 1991, one of which was closed after several years. Two years later another location was added in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, bringing the current total to five. Tueny also took an active role in the catalog printing and nursery operations of the company through the years.
Grandson Richard (Dick) Zondag currently manages the company, assisted by his brother, Robert (Bob) Zondag and son Nathan Zondag. At the present time Jung's prints 8 catalog titles and over 8 million catalogs each year, with about 3,500,000 of those being the spring and fall versions of the Jung catalog.